Paddleboard yoga in the mangroves with the Jesus Christ lizards

Paddleboard yoga in the mangroves with the Jesus Christ lizards

Introducing the Elusive Soy So Soy didn’t show up at 3 and I spent the afternoon cruising the beach, pausing to watch dudes in dreads juggle and two couples facing off in beach bocce, where they got creative with a self-constructed set of mismatched coconuts and rocks. I returned at the tent late afternoon for a second shower in bug spray and stopped to chat with my roommate, a Swiss girl who just finished her masters in biomedical engineering (all these female engineers). A bellowing voice interrupted our conversation, “Katieeee! Katieee”. I peeked out the tent and quickly ducked back in. “There’s no way that curly-haired creature with a double-nose piercing, tearing down the jungle path is looking for me”. But she promptly bounced into the tent, greeted me with a faceful of kisses and apologized that the afternoon disappeared from her during an epic nap. So that’s Soy, a playful puppy of a person, trailed by her surfer boyfriend Phil who warily watched from several meters behind. “Hey, girl! You have arrived but it’s probably a good thing. I hope you just chilled. And absorbed. Isn’t this place great?”, she rambled in a voice, slightly raspy with the illness that caused her epic nap. I abandoned my pack re-organizing project (later I realized, with my stuff splayed all over the floor… fortunately, leaving things out was safe this time despite perpetually open tents) and we re-buzzed around the facilities in a flurry of introductions. We sat down to plan the week (which is actually one-on-one playtime with Soyela), which involved a lot of talking and options and not much of a plan. But it sounds like there’s some acro (partner) yoga, slackboard yoga and hula-hoop yoga in my future (and possibly a day of helping Soy give the locals hula hoop lessons at the nearby “give-and-surf” school). With paddleboard yoga scheduled for 9 AM (which came with a warning about running on island time… so it may be 10 or 11), she disappeared as quickly as she came, but not without another dozen kisses and exclaiming, “I love that you’re here, girl!”. Waking Up to Open-air, Ocean-front Yoga The evening exploded in violent thunderstorms that postponed our 9 AM session but she suggested I catch 8:30 yoga with Rei, a teensy, twig of a girl that I’ve seen around with a book in her hand, exuding a Buddha-like enlightenment vibes. Six of us practiced in an open-air studio, with rain pinging off the roof, cultivating an oujaii breath that matched the crashing ocean waves. Even with a crusty-sand covering and with ants crawling up my warrior legs, I echoed the sentiment of one of the PR people who pitched his yoga retreat to me. “Practicing yoga in an open-air platform with the ocean waves roaring around you is like sex on ecstasy. Yoga in a typical studio will never be the same”. I can’t testify to his exact comparison but it’s pretty amazing to absorb the energy of the jungle and let the chirp of the insects/birds provide the rhythm to your movements.   Paddleboarding By 10:30 AM, the waves had calmed down enough to head out on my first Paddleboard adventure with a couple Bostonians. We marched in pairs in a paddleboard-sandwich down that same jungle path (whose mud has truly reached slip-n-slide levels) to the dock. With some basic pointers, we set sail amongst the mangroves, which created calm waters from the wind and the wake. We paddled on our knees past “Jesus Christ” lizards, aptly named by the way they trotted across the water until we escaped the jellyfish zone. Eventually we practiced paddling while standing and seeing our success, we found a secluded area to try yoga. Yoga on a paddleboard exaggerates any out-of-center alignment so even lunges required intense concentration but the sun was starting to come out so falling out of a pose felt more like a blessing than a curse. I played around with lunges, modified warrior IIs, downward dogs, three-legged dogs and headstand preparation. Bobbi, the Bostonian working on her dissertation in educational leadership, also teaches hot yoga so she was hopping into headstands (no big deal). And her boyfriend Joe was just chilling on paddleduty. Soy later commented, “Bobbi- you were killing it! And Joe- you ARRIVED! You were like in sirvasana the whole time. Rock on!”. After a couple hours on the water, we mud-skated back to drop off the paddleboards and Soy left me to “just chill! Chill and absorb” before some potential afternoon activity. And here I am- bobbing to reggae, seeking some shade at the bar during the sunniest part...

Who needs to hunt for Easter eggs when you can track down Palmar Tent lodge? Making my way to Bocas Del Toro, Panama

Who needs to hunt for Easter eggs when you can track down Palmar Tent lodge?  Making my way to Bocas Del Toro, Panama

And the real journey began. Panama, especially once you get out of its capital city, reminded me strongly of Costa Rica but fortunately with much better roads. The “modern” buses did have reclining seats (as promised) but the man in front of me reclined his seat so he was practically in my lap and my seat didn’t move. The bus was equipped with movie capabilities but what they don’t publicize is that they play one movie (some flick with people running dramatically through the jungle to whip-like lightening cracks and howls of demonic wildlife) with its audio blasting through the speakers and shaking the bus. Which is even better when the family next to me decides they want to watch a Spanish slap-stick comedy show, hook-up portable speakers to someone’s phone and crank up the volume on that. Someone’s snorting snores rubbed in the fact that I couldn’t sleep and the bus thumped along with a pitter-patter that made me wonder whether the vehicle was powered by running feet. In addition to the smorgasbord of sounds, the bus had a seizure-inducing strobe light that illuminated flashes of jungle waving angry tentacles at us. Just when the girl next to me started to cuddle up next to me, and I was starting to warm up to my squished-like-a-sardine-status (literally and figuratively, because the bus was freezing), we stopped. And the bus unloaded at a gas station and people scattered to stock up at snacks at the pharmacy, munch on Spanish pastries and even scream their lungs out at the carnival in the parking lot. And they had time to do it because the bus took an unannounced two hour <!!!> break, from 10 PM to midnight, when they let creepy clowns board the bus to sell lollipops. Just to add to the general ominous-ity of the evening. Bus to Taxi to Water Taxi Once we started moving, the rest of the ride went better except the 10-hour ride took over 12 hours (I wonder why…) and I stayed on the bus until the end, when later I found out I was supposed to get off 45 minutes earlier so I had to take a cab and back-track, which cost me the same as the Bocas del Toro bus ticket. From there, I boarded a bumpy water taxi next to a woman who shrieked every time she got sprayed by the ocean, disembarked at Bocas Town, wandered around until I found the hostel with “shuttle” service to where I needed to go. The “shuttles” are actually another water taxi that only leave twice a day- 10 AM and 4 PM. Fortunately, I had time to spare despite my scenic route past Almirante (I honestly don’t know where I ended up but don’t go there if you want to go to Bocas Town) so I didn’t “miss the boat” (literally) and joined a French family as the lone arrivers to whatever-island-we-are-on-now. Jungle Trek After being dropped at a dingy dock, I began a fifteen minute march through the jungle, happily plodding along in flip-flops “pregnant turtle-style” with my big backpack on my back and other backpack in front. Quiro (some Panamian construction worker) heard the springy sound of speeding sandals and put his hand out to slow me down with “Siempre cuidado” just as I tripped on a root and fell to my knees. He insisted on carrying one of my backpacks so I could see and we slip-slidded our way through the mud to my arrival destination. So I have officially arrived! Still no interaction with “Soy”, the yoga lady, no sign of other retreaters but I did get a tour of the “tent lodge”. It is completely self-sufficient with solar power and harvested rainwater, filled with surfer hippies that don’t shower (the maximum length shower you can get with 40 pumps is 45 seconds… I’m excited to have an excuse to join shower-less masses), I’m staying in a tent named Pina and I love it. I spent the afternoon perusing the books to share collection (looking forward to reading “training your Rottweiler” and “composting for dummies”), napping on the beach, and amusedly watching a blackened teen try to learn to surf from a thong-wearing instructor. Knowing that my time will probably come and I’ll be even more awkward and entertaining to whoever decides to watch. I’ve also spent all day wondering what time it was but I think it is time to attempt to greet the elusive Soyela, who tends to appear around the bar around 3. Supposedly. Song of the Moment: Vacation Vacation by U.S. Royalty If you want to get from Panama City...

A Peek at Panama City: Contemporary Advancement and a Crumbling (?) Past

A Peek at Panama City: Contemporary Advancement and a Crumbling (?) Past

Besides the 4 AM wake-up, getting to Panama City was pretty painless and Tamir, an Isreali who had been living in Panama since early childhood, was the Easter miracle that saved my Sunday afternoon. Panama’s airport is surrounded by jungle: landing lanes here, fields of green just over the fence. I traveled to the city center in a shared cab with Dr. Ed (who very formally introduced himself with a last name that I promptly forgot) who works as an adjunct professor and fish hatchery researcher out of Louisiana State University. As he discussed the repercussions moving oil rigs from near shore had on the fish communities, he reflected on the ironies of “advancement” and its detrimental impact on local ecosystem. Finding balance between modernization and living with the land is something Panama probably struggles with too, I realized as we passed extremely contemporary high-rises soaring above shacks, meters from palm trees shaved by machetes. Just last week, I read how Panama was opening Central America’s first metro within the month, much to the dismay of its residents’ bank accounts (and probably the historic city structure itself). Panama’s Pyramids: Panama Canal After uniting with Tamir, and the Argentinean couchsurfer Maria that he was entertaining, I learned the new metro system was just the tip of the ice berg when it came to things Panama City wanted/ “needed”/ planned to build. He first took us to the Panama Canal, because “going to Panama and not seeing the canal was like going to Egypt and not seeing the pyramids”. We snuck up the escalator and he looked around suspiciously before letting us settle in the “couchsurfer viewing area” of the canal (where you could see the vast majority of the operations beyond the fence and avoid the recently raised $15 fee… he’s afraid that someone might catch on to his tricks). Tamir was a cheerful chatterbox and happily explained how ships came in, fresh water from the lake changing the water level of the locks to transfer the massive shipping vessels out of sea. We timed it perfectly to see two major boats make it through the lock and be sent on their merry away. Apparently, Panama plans to add a $30ish billion addition of bigger locks to their canal to accommodate boats twice the current size. The country doesn’t really have the money for it, especially with all the other projects they have planned, but they fear losing business if they can’t accommodate the requests of the companies that plan to send products through. Another related issue is additional water resources that will be needed to fill these larger locks. Right now, the water is coming from the lake and it sounds like they’ve found mini ways to make this process more efficient but with a growing city population, its unlikely they’ll have enough water to service the people and the canal. So that’s controversial. Cuidad Nueva, Casco Viejo After that, Tamir took us to the popular Casco Viejo, another area of the city that is undergoing major renovation. He thinks it used to be the old French quarter and it houses beautiful churches, national theater and governmental buildings from the 1770s. Today, it’s a mix of rotting, crumbling structures next to beautifully restored places for fine dining and upscale cocktails. As the up and coming part of town, the property values have skyrockets but there’s still a few families hanging on to their dark and dusty properties, from back when it wasn’t a good area. I feel lucky to have been able to visit now and witness the contrast, because in 5 or so years I think the city will be completed transformed (unless their ambitious plans to expand and compete with the rest of the globe backfire). We wandered the streets, stopped by stalls set up by indigenous people selling brightly colored textiles, bold paintings made with quick, emotional strokes and straw masks of jungle creatures. Tamir left us behind to attend a Passover supper and Maria and I gave into the siren call of a cold beer and sexy Cuban musing, blaring mid-afternoon at the “Havana Club”. While replenishing our electrolytes, I learned she had finished an electrical engineering degree a couple months ago and celebrated with solo trip for a month around Panama and Costa Rica. Her whole family sounded adventurous and she shared tales of South America as I confirmed Thailand and Cambodia as top spots of her travel list. Then we made our way back to the bus station, both of us heading to Bocas del Toro but on buses spaced a half an hour apart. There’s only one...